ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister for Multiculturalism

At a News Conference to Announce the Government’s support for a memorial project to commemorate victims of Communism

Ottawa, Ontario
August 23, 2013

As delivered

Thank you, Chris, for your words and your commitment to our country’s history as a champion of freedom and human rights. Welcome to you, to all of you here, and particularly to our special guests.

Let me in particular acknowledge the presence of a number of special guests.  First of all, I see that my former parliamentary colleague and former minister David Kilgour is here.  Great to see you, David. One of Canada’s most courageous and consistent champions of human rights and human dignity.

We also have the President of the Polish Canadian Congress, Ms. Teresa Berezowski.  Teresa, thank you for being here.

A representative of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. President Paul Grod couldn’t be here, but thank you to the UCC for being represented. 

Mr. Markus Hess, Chairman of the Central and Eastern European Council of Canada. Thank you, Markus, for being here. 

And thank you as well to Senator Hai Ngo for his presence and dedication to this project, representing the strong support of the Vietnamese community to realizing this common place of memory.

Today, we commemorate Black Ribbon Day, an occasion to remember the experience of hundreds of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe who lived through and survived the terror of communism following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed on this day in 1939.

Today, we join with members of Canada’s central and eastern European communities in commemorating the Black Ribbon Day which recalls the betrayal of the people of central and eastern Europe in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

It has become a common day of memory, an opportunity for a common act of memory by Canadians whose families lived through an unthinkable terror, a terror starkly described in the recent bestselling book by scholar Tim Snyder called Bloodlands which details the millions whose lives were taken during that period of terror.

But Black Ribbon Day recalls just one aspect of a century of tyranny behind the Iron Curtain and in totalitarian communist regimes, a century closely studied by several leading scholars and historians in The Black Book on Communism, which estimates that in the range of 100 million people lost their lives in the 20th century as a result of state-sponsored violence and terror, persecution and genocide in communist states.

Canada, as Minister Alexander said, has always played a remarkable role as a beacon of hope and freedom for people from around the world and most especially for those who experienced and survived these forms of totalitarianism. 

Canada received Russian and other eastern European refugees following the Bolshevik Revolution who, right from 1917 onward, had lost their property, lost in many cases members of their family and who sought freedom here. Canada became a land of refuge for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who fled oppression, including the survivors of what our Parliament has recognized as the Holodomor famine genocide of 1932-33. 

Canada was a refuge for the people of Poland who escaped the Soviet occupation during and following the Second World War, right through to the brave souls who participated in solidarity like our parliamentary colleague Wladyslaw Lizon.  Canada was a land of refuge for tens of thousands of Hungarian refugees who fled the Soviet communist invasion in 1956 and began new free and fruitful lives here in Canada.

Canada was a safe place for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing communism in Prague in Spring 1968. Canada was obviously a place of refuge for tens of thousands of refugees from the communist oppression in Vietnam in the 1970s.

Canada has long been a place of freedom for those who were victims of totalitarian regimes.

And that is why it is important for us, as Canadians together, to learn the lessons of this history, of what Jean-Paul II referred to as the century of tears. It is essential for us who have inherited these institutions and values of democracy to recall how fragile they are and how systems of government that deny the basic inalienable dignity of a human person can create such havoc and violence.

And that is why the Government of Canada has committed to working with affected Canadian communities to establish here in this beautiful space a national place of memory. That is why we committed as a platform item in the last federal election to work with affected communities in creating a national memorial to commemorate the victims of communism. Similar memorials have been created in other democracies around the world, and it’s time for Canada to do the same. 

And that is why I am pleased, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to announce that we will contribute $1.5 million over the course of the next two years to the Tribute to Liberty Foundation to assist in the erection of a national monument to the victims of communism called Canada: A Land of Refuge. 

So this is an occasion for the Government of Canada to work with the communities affected. Let us be clear—there are a million Canadians who are affected, who have been oppressed or persecuted, or who are the descendants of those who came to Canada with such a history. We work with those communities, with those Canadians, to create a shared memory and a place for learning, so that we can pass on to future generations the experience of totalitarian communist states. 

This is our duty because there is a tendency to forget these historical experiences. There is a tendency to brush aside the lessons of the 20th century and those communist regimes. That is why we have, in my opinion, a moral obligation to create not only a monument but also long-term educational projects with Tribute to Liberty in order to pass on the history of these Canadians, the victims of communism.

This will be a place of common memory. I hope and believe that for generations to come the descendants of Ukrainian refugees to Canada will come here on Holodomor Commemoration Day to lay wreaths and to recall the sacred memory of the millions whose lives were taken by Stalin and his henchmen in the Holodomor. It’s my hope that on the Commemoration Day of Katyn that the descendants of Polonia will come here in the heart of our nation’s capital and recall the effort by the Soviet communists to wipe out the elites of Poland. 

It is my hope that descendants of the Vietnamese refugees will come here and recall those whose lives were taken and imprisoned and persecuted for their faith, for their belief – belief in democracy.

And it’s my hope that Canadians of all backgrounds will join with them in these commemorations.

So this is a project that will endure long after any of us are here. It’s a project that will have a permanent presence and will stand as a testament to generations of Canadians to come that this was a period of human history that must never be forgotten.

So I thank you for your commitment, particularly the commitment of the members of the communities involved.

And in closing, I would quote Prime Minister Harper who said of Black Ribbon Day that, on this day, we show the world that Canada ““condemns crimes against humanity, and that we will forever and always be a stalwart champion for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

This is not just a place of sadness, of recollection, but it is also a place where people can express gratitude for what Canada has offered as a land of refuge.

Thank you

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